[Ip-health] The first 3D-printed pill opens up a world of downloadable medicine

Tahir Amin tahir at i-mak.org
Wed Aug 5 11:24:30 PDT 2015


With architects printing lumpy plastic houses
fashion designers printing oddly-shaped dresses and food companies printing
dodgy-looking hamburgers
the hype around 3D printing can often seem like a novelty. But news that
the world’s first 3D-printed drug has just been approved suggests that,
beyond the realm of personalised plastic trinkets, the technology still has
a huge amount to offer.

Developed by Ohio-based pharmaceutical company Aprecia, Spritam
levetiracetam <http://www.spritam.com/> is a new drug to control seizures
brought on by epilepsy. Approved by the US Food and Drug Administration
this week, it employs the company’s trademark “ZipDose
technology, which uses 3D printing to create a more porous pill. Its
structure means the pill dissolves more quickly on contact with liquid,
making it much easier to swallow high doses than a conventional tablet.

The 3D printing <http://www.theguardian.com/technology/3d-printing> process
also allows layers of medication to be packaged more tightly in precise
dosages, and it points to a future of more personalised medicine.
3D-printed pills could be custom-ordered, based on specific patient needs,
rather than on a one-drug-fits-all approach.

“For the last 50 years, we have manufactured tablets in factories and
shipped them to hospitals,” said Dr Mohamed Albed Alhnan
<http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-33772692>, a lecturer in
pharmaceutics at the University of Central Lancashire. “For the first time,
this process means we can produce tablets much closer to the patient.” By
making slight adjustments to the software before printing, hospitals could
adjust doses for individual patients, a process of personalisation that is
otherwise prohibitively expensive.

The porous pill technology could also have important benefits for other
drugs, according to Marvin Rorick, a neurologist at Riverhills Neuroscience
in Cincinnati. “In my experience, patients and caregivers often have
difficulty following a treatment regimen,” he said. “Whether they are
dealing with a swallowing disorder or the daily struggle of getting a child
to take his or her medication, adherence can be a challenge. Especially for
children and seniors, having an option for patients to take their
medication as prescribed is important to managing this disease.”

While 3D printing has already been embraced in other medical fields – from
printing new jawbones in facial reconstruction to custom-shaped teeth and
other dental implants, as well as producing personalised prosthetics
– this is the first time the technology has been approved for the
production of drugs; and it won’t be the last time.

Researchers at the School of Pharmacy of University College London have
been developing a technique to 3D-print pills in different shapes
from pyramids to doughnuts, using a technique known as “hot melt
extrusion”. The different forms, which would be hard to manufacture using
standard production techniques, release drugs at different rates. Their
research has found that the rate of drug release is dependent not on
surface area, but on the surface area-to-volume ratio. A pyramid-shaped
pill, for example, releases a drug slower than a cube or a sphere, allowing
absorption to be controlled.

While the Spritam pill similarly uses 3D printing primarily to change the
physical structure of the pill, other researchers have been working on how
the technology could be used to develop new drugs at a molecular level.
Professor Lee Cronin at Glasgow University has been working on a “chemputer
a sort of 3D-printing chemistry set, which can be programmed to make
chemical reactions and produce different molecules. Describing the process
as similar to what Apple did for music, he envisages a world where patients
will be able to download the “recipes” for drugs and print them at home. In
the future, he suggests, we won’t be buying drugs, so much as blueprints or

Tahir Amin
Co-Founder and Director of Intellectual Property
Initiative for Medicines, Access & Knowledge (I-MAK)
*Website:* www.i-mak.org
*Email:* tahir at i-mak.org
*Skype: *tahirmamin
*Tel:* +1 917 455 6601/+44 771 853 9472

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